After two layovers in NYC and Hong Kong, we arrived in the Philippines during a rain storm, but tried to be accepting of the seven-day dreary forecast. After all, it was wet season and we had packed new raincoats to break in. But the egg shell colored sky was a steep contrast to the general mood of humanity in Manila. In the taxi, upbeat English tunes streamed as loudly as the occasional horn toot and our driver sported a perma-grin, visible to us in the rear view mirror. Men in rain capes sped past us on mopeds and people dashed for cover by scurrying into jeepneys, budget transport military-style jeeps with two long benches.
From the Philippinos we know and love in the USA, we had an inclination that this country would have a high happy factor. But we had to believe the weather would definitely put that idea to the test.
After taking a nap, which turned into a 17-hour jet lag coma, the clock struck 4 am and we were rarin’ to explore. By 6 am we had breakfasted, showered and planned our day in Manila. When we arrived at the front desk with a note pad and pen to jot down directions to Intramuros, the oldest district of the city, and to record a few tourist tips, the hostel owner pegged us as European tourists. We took that as a compliment and bolted to his first restaurant suggestion, Tapa King, for our second breakfast. (Hey, the first one was practically a midnight snack!)
More smiling faces welcomed us into this fast-food establishment. Garlic rice, marinated sweet beef and an over-easy egg was served in a bowl with vinegar and other sauces as condiments.
We strolled through Rizal Park’s gardens and came upon numbers of homeless camps along Roxas Blvd. We learned that there is even a content attitude among the very poor, with the passive Philippino philosophy, “Bahala Na,” meaning whatever will be, will be or leave it to God.
Pollution from moped taxis called tricycles mixed with the stifling air and our lungs reminded us it was time for a rest. Among 16th century town walls and ornate cathedrals, we ducked into an Intramuros cafe for a $.25 Sprite. Bowl cuts and bobby pins abounded. School had just recessed and students snacked on adobo and pinakbet and at the Philippino buffet. But this scene lacked the chatter of children as all heads turned up to view a small television screen suspended in the dark corner.
This is one sport that makes the already joyous Philippino hearts leap and faces beam.
After getting denied entrance to Intramuros’ ancient cathedral due to my sleeveless shirt, we decided to head somewhere with no dress code: China Town won that bid. A pedi taxi driver, a scrawny guy on a bicycle pedaling an attached dinged-up side cart, offered to cycle us there for 100 pesos (US$2.50) We’ve never felt heavier and looked out on the man with such pity that we decided Jason should get out and pu
sh at one point on a slight incline. The driver enjoyed this gesture and committed to displaying it with a belly laugh. Toward the end, it was my turn to hop out and Jason tried the mode of transport himself by pedaling the taxi driver around. The man chuckled and waved to passersby. Such a fun spirit these people have.
Throughout the next few days we were given free rides, taken to country clubs, brought specialty food that we may not have ordered but that we just “had to try,” and ended up feeling like the funniest people in the world. Laughter, innocent jokes and an all-around kind spirit hung in the humid air of Manila. We wished to bottle up these spirits and uncork in places with less pleasant demeanor. So we committed to partaking in a bit of Philippino humor during tough future situations. We’ll let you know how that one goes!
Next stop: The islands!